Today Paris, tomorrow the world...

A new generation of artists, musicians and designers is forging a fresh creativity that owes little to French tradition - or to Swinging London. Julie Street meets the nouveau-chic market leaders


Thirty-year-old director of La Haine, the controversial cult film about violence and police oppression in the Paris suburbs, which won rave reviews and an award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. Dubbed the "French cousin of Spike Lee", he has also proved his talent on the other side of the camera, acting in several French films, including his first film, Metisse (purely as an economy measure, he claims) and his new movie Assassin(s).

"Paris is amazingly cosmopolitan. There's Arab culture, African culture, Jewish culture, and American culture has become part of Parisian life now, too. A lot of people are up in arms about the increasing Americanisation of France, but you have to be open to cultural fusion. I've been eating Big Macs and drinking Coca Cola since I was five years old and I can tell you I prefer a good hamburger to a stale baguette sandwich."


The stunning feathered headpiece Halley created for Alexander McQueen's show has become famous in its own right, and Halley's intricately worked creations capture the spirit of Paris's fashion avant-garde. Fans include Hussein Chalayan, Thierry Mugler, Karl Lagerfeld and David Bowie, who wore one of Halley's sculpted feather earrings on his latest tour.

"For me, Paris is an absolute hotbed of creative talent. There's a tradition of craftsmanship here that exists nowhere else in the world and I think young people are tapping into that right now. More and more people are setting themselves up as designers and artisans, rediscovering old skills and using them to create exciting modern works."


Renowned for his innovative remixes of Bjork hits and his spectacular soundtracks for Gaultier and Lagerfeld fashion shows, Dimitri, 33, is currently taking the music scene by storm with his easy listening/ house album, Sacrebleu. He began as a club DJ before landing a job on Paris FM's hottest dance station, NRJ.

"There's a whole new generation of French musicians who grew up listening to house and dance music, rather than traditional rock or French chanson, and this has helped them develop a brand new sound. There's a great buzz of creativity and tremendous energy around at the moment, fused with a real desire to show the world that French musicians have got something to offer. For so long, French music had such a bad reputation that when I used to go and buy my records in London I'd never admit I was a French DJ, because people would just fall around laughing. It was like, 'Oh, there's really a music scene in France, is there?' Now, following the success of groups such as St Germain and Daft Punk, I guess we feel it's time we Froggies got our revenge!"


All in their mid-twenties, the trio are typical of the new generation of young designers springing up in Paris. They opened their funky boutique Le Hublot in Republique last year, working on an extremely tight budget, so Le Hublot's innovative decor is created from recycling "odds and ends". The glittering ceiling, a bricolage of sculpted silver foil and the boutique walls, a glossy collage of nightclub flyers, make the perfect kitsch backdrop for the trio's street and clubwear. A Seventies sofa, piled high with leopard-skin cushions, makes Le Hublot feel more like a living room than a shop, an impression confirmed by the steady stream of people who drop in for coffee and cigarettes.

Laurent Fontaine: "I think the essence of the new scene in Paris is less about commercialism and individualism and more about pooling individual talents and forming collectives."

Sophie Bercot: "A lot of young designers are teaming up with photographers, stylists, even furniture designers and looking at how they can work together. There's definitely a creative buzz in Paris right now."

Kristoff Le Belhomme: "The French traditionally dress in a rather boring, conservative way, the last thing they want is to wear something which will make them stand out in a crowd. When I used to go stomping down the street in platform heels I was told it was open provocation. But things are slowly starting to change. There's been a huge drag scene in Paris over the past few years which has encouraged people to dress a bit more outrageously."


Not since Francoise Sagan exploded onto the literary scene in the Fifties with Bonjour Tristesse has so much excitement been generated by a young, French, female novelist. Truismes, a cult modern fable about a beautician who turns into a pig, has rocketed up the bestseller list, and Darrieussecq, 28, is now an international literary phenomenon. Jean-Luc Godard has bought the film rights to the novel and it has been translated into Italian, German and English. Faber and Faber publish it in Britain next week as Pig Tales: A Novel Of Lust And Transformation.

"I think people who go round saying the French literary scene is dead don't know what the hell they're talking about. The Paris scene is thriving right now. There's a wealth of creative writers, especially women, who've got interesting things to say. I think we're living in a particularly exciting period in the run- up to the year 2000 and, don't worry, Paris is very much alive and kicking."

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